We get asked a bit about sterilisation of instruments and with the current Coronovirus we’re getting a few more questions. We’re not doctors, this is not medical advice. It’s simply a collection of industry standards and best practices with a few things you can do to help.
Lets be clear, sterilisation of instruments while technically possible isn’t something that is done often. We’re unaware of any brass and woodwind workshops that meet lab standards. Once sterilised instruments would only be considered sterile until they are touched or exposed to room air making this generally an unnecessary procedure. We find what most people actually are enquiring about is to get their instrument to be ’antiseptically clean’.
It’s a fairly easy one for brass instruments. Many dish washing liquids are antibacterial. Disassemble your instrument completely and wash thoroughly in warm soapy water. Use a cleaning snake or brush kit to ensure every internal surfaces is brushed well. Rinse, lubricate, and resemble then you’re ready to go. Make sure you don’t forget to do the mouthpiece. This can all be done at home or by your favoured technician.
If the internal tubes of your instrument aren't smooth or there's a lot of build up in them then having your instrument professionally cleaned might also be worth considering as there are more places for bacteria to cling onto.
Woodwind instruments are a little harder to tackle than brass. There are a lot of mechanisms that shouldn’t be submerged in water as well as porous materials use in pads and regulation. In most cases disassembling the instrument and washing the body section in warm soapy water then hand cleaning keywork and pads will be sufficient. Wooden instruments will require oiling after washing and some soaps may not be ideal. We recommend this be done by a trained technician.
The pads can be a tricky area. Saxophone pads are usually leather and, while a little porous, a surface wipe is usually sufficient to clean. Traditional Flute and Clarinet pads have a thinner bladder and are more easily compromised, if any moister is getting through to the felt you may want to consider replacing these pads. For a more comprehensive option replacing all the pads and key felts will allow for the keywork to be washed too and all new materials used.
Cases can be trickier as there’s lots of absorbent materials to try and clean. We recommend giving them a vacuum, light spray with a disinfectant (like Glen20 or Eucalyptus spray) and leave in the sunshine for a couple of hours. In most instances it is not possible to effectively wash or steam clean a case. If you would like a more thorough option than above a new case is probably your best choice.
- Don’t share reeds. If you are going to, use a fully synthetic reed such as Forestone that can be disinfected.
- If you’ve been unwell and played, dispose of cane reeds you used.
- If you have to share mouthpieces ensure you use a disinfect spray such as Sterisol. You can use this on flute head joints too.
- Antibacterial wipes can be used on key touches and won’t harm most modern finishes. Be mindful that some vintage lacquers can be harmed by contact with wiping alcohol.
- Further reading: highly recommend the Eastman Music Infection Control for Instruments (ICI) eBook available for free from their website.